What is becoming increasingly clear from the present proceedings of the Inquiry Commission set up by the highest Court of the land, the Supreme Court following a random selection of 6 cases of alleged extra judicial killings from a submitted list of over 1500 such cases by two organizations is that the police and other agencies that go to work along it side in police cases have mostly done cursory jobs. The amount of time taken by state respondents being grilled by the persecution lawyer along with the questions coming from the Commission members drive home the fact that there has never been a second thought on the nature of correct proceedings being followed earlier. In the cases of police officials being questioned along with forensic staff, there are more inconsistencies and gaping holes than anything else. The answers from Investigating Officers meanwhile, tell its own tale of apathy and a lack of missing out details. The fault line here lies in the implied impunity that Manipur Police and its various hydra heads believes it possesses and is protected under. The false confidence comes only from being held unaccountable for its action and because judicial inquiries and magisterial inquiries have mostly been carried out cursorily. The failure to see that this Commission is an entirely different level playing field can only be their undoing in the long haul. When P John Singh, Officer-in-charge of Commando Imphal West District walked into the house of Nameirakpam Lembi Leima, whose son Nameirakpam Nobo’s case of an alleged fake encounter is one of the six chosen by the Supreme Court for inquiry being heard, he did not realize that his action cannot be explained as a ‘routine check’ but seen as a challenge of the authority of the Commission for which he has been duly rapped. If the Commission had taken his home visit to the Supreme Court, it may have led to a charge of Contempt of Court and befitting punishment and censure.
While the final judgments will take its time considering that the Commission is yet to complete its Inquiry, what it has achieved is to give a quantum of hope and solace to numerous mothers and wives and siblings. When the judgments do come in, there will hopefully be closure and a sense of putting a journey of hope and despair to its conclusion. There can be a final end to questions that have never been answered earlier. The body language of family members who have lost a kin or a friend who was accompanying his friend just minutes before being killed as they listen to police personnel being put on the spot and made answerable is a poignant mix of deep emotions and delight. Emotions spilling with memories on one hand, and pure delight on the other over how the mighty were being brought to task. What the Inquiry proceedings of the Commission have done is also establish errors in police official reporting, medical reports including forensic reports and doubts over ballistic tests. There are elementary questions being raised over the nature of the chain of commands, how police records such as transcripts and voice messages, vehicle log books, arms records are being kept and maintained (or not being maintained in most cases). The precise nature of questioning and linking of one arm of the case to another is something that lawyers in the state need to really learn from.
For the state police, the writing is clear: there can be no impunity that is going to protect them. Those who are convicted will end in the dock and there will be no doubts over that, given the track record of the members of the Commission. But if it so desires, the Manipur Police can take this as an opportunity to overhaul itself. It can choose to ensure that mechanisms of correct procedure are maintained and followed. It can even begin to operate as personnel meant to protect and secure lives and not infringe on people’s rights with its false idea of impunity. But if in its infinite wisdom, the Police Department is to continue with its own set of undefined rules there can be no escape to such Commissions in the future. The choice they should realize is still with them, unlike those who have died without getting justice.